Jubilate!

The Kinks – The Village Green Preservation Society – Stereo Version

Britain’s longest reigning monarch to date has been Queen Victoria, who was queen for over 63 years (although as she became queen at 18 she had a good start).  Until now she was the only monarch to celebrate a diamond jubilee which she did in 1897.  This was at the height of empire, and Britain was at the height of her powers as a result, so the celebrations were lavish.

Here in Whitburn the event was marked by installation of a drinking fountain in the village green, though in the decades that have followed it has suffered some wear and tear; the ornate bronze workings that topped the structure have long gone, and there is no longer a water supply.

Today marked the completion of the first phase of restoration of the fountain, funded by a collection amongst the village residents, and initiated by two leading lights of the village; John Shield, one of the churchwardens and his able assistant Ken Smith, the Rector.  The project was launched to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and with this being the weekend of many of the official celebrations it seemed fitting to aim to complete the work in time for an official unveiling today

The first phase has seen a new inscription on the west side of the fountain, and a general clean up of the structure.  With a little research in Durham Records Office, it is hoped to be able to replicate the original metal work on top, and fit two ornamental covers over the concrete that was used to fill the holes left by the original spouts.

To mark the occasion in true celebratory style John suggested that residents along the main street in the village might wish to congregate for a picnic, and so one of those rare expressions of quintessential Englishness ensured.  Flags and bunting were strewn liberally, red white and blue clothing was virtually compulsory, and picnic blankets and tables disappeared under sandwiches, cakes, and bottles of fizz. 

Special mention must go to a particularly patriotic trifle…

Some 200 people were expected, but it felt like many more made an appearance, probably passers-by drawn by curiosity at the throng enjoying the sunshine on the green. John and his band set up outside his farmhouse to provide entertainment,

the kids enjoyed a bouncy castle,

and a moment of formality was provided when the Mayor officially unveiled the fountain.

We have only lived here for 9 years, but it was clear that there is still a community at the heart of the village who know each other well and it felt great to be a part of it.  We just need an excuse to do this on a more regular basis!

There were many people who could have featured on my blog today, but there was a woman near us who stood out as an obvious choice with her Pre-Raphaelite hair.  Actress, model and musician, Alicia was an English rose on this most patriotic of days.

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The Great British Breakfast…

is probably kippers or kedgeree for kayak fishermen like these, but what did you have for breakfast this morning?  Did you have anything at all?  Are you a cooked or cold lover?  Healthy or heart attack?

I know from my links to education just how important this meal is in given brain and body the fuel to get the day off to a good start yet I fear that an area where we once were world beaters is falling into a sad decline.  It may be called “the full English” but how many of us partake of it, other than when your trying to extract maximum value from your accommodation costs in a hotel with a good buffet option?

The morning fry up was an Edwardian innovation; an opportunity for landowners with a few pigs and chickens to demonstrate the quality of his produce to overnight visitors.  With the household staff otherwise occupied with chores it was designed to be eaten without domestic servants waiting on diners, leading to the “help yourself according to what you fancy” approach that continues in larger hotels now.  What probably began as bacon, sausage, eggs and mushrooms has grown to include beans, tomatoes, black pudding, white pudding, haggis, saute potatoes, hash browns, and more.  I’ve eaten most, but have never really been drawn to devilled kidneys!  Got to have HP sauce though.

Over the years, this morning repast was claimed by the working classes and became the staple fayre of any greasy spoon worth its salt!

So what started the decline?  I blame our transatlantic cousins, and in particular the Kellogg family.  John Harvey Kellogg, a doctor and theologian was a keen advocate of vegetarianism, and a strong believer in abstinence.  He gave momentum to those hard-core porridge and muesli lovers who believe that if it tastes of anything pleasant it is to be spurned!  John Harvey invented the cornflake.

His brother Will Keith Kellogg, who was having none of this restraint, took his brother’s invention, liberally added salt and sugar and founded what we now know as Kelloggs.  Millions of dollars of advertising, and brightly coloured boxes later and I grew up to be a cereal eater, and I still am, though appalled at the food industries insatiable appetite(!) for adding to chocolate to everything cereal now.  What is that doing to the diets of our children who are lured by the cartoon characters that adorn every tooth rotting box?

Today’s portrait subject John would have to opt for “other” if this morning is representative of his normal start the day routine.  He had cheese on toast.

Columba livia

Mankind began domesticating animals twelve thousand years ago.  Many mammals were bred for food and milk, and dogs became a trusted guardian and hunting companion.  The first bird to be domesticated was the pigeon; there are records of this taking place 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets.

A History of the World in 100 Objects
A History of the World in 100 Objects (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like so many of the other animals the birds were kept for food initially; the young birds generally grow to a good size before they fledge, making them an attractive option for breeders.  At this stage they were no different to any other food source, but pigeons became so much more.

In the North of England (and many other parts of the world) there is a tradition of pigeon racing, a culture of breeding and raising pigeons that produced two objectives – race winners and show pigeons.

The first of these is based on the birds uncanny homing ability, they are able to return home over distances of 1000km even from locations that they have never been to before.  One bird has been recorded “homing” from 1200 miles away.  It is this ability that gave pigeons a new and more important role; from the late 19th Century until WWII the birds were used to carry messages in war-time – leading to occasions where some birds have even been awarded medals!

To pigeon fanciers they are “the thoroughbreds of the air”, but there is a downside.  So many domesticated birds returned to the wild that our cities are now home to flocks of feral pigeons with a less attractive brand – “rats with wings”.  The mess they leave can certainly be a problem ( Genesis asked “Who put fifty tons of shit on the Foreign Office roof?” on their ep Spot the Pigeon ), but they have a less justified reputation as carriers of disease.

The pest control companies have a vested interest in telling us how dirty and dangerous the birds are, although an attempt to pass the deadly h5n1 bird flu virus by dosing pigeons with a 1000 times normal strength concentration failed to infect them.

Some cities use raptors to control the populations, but today I encountered something I wasn’t expecting.  A gull eating a pigeon!  My wife was queasy watching this (she’d rather see a gull eating its natural diet of Gregg’s pasty!) but I thought why not – they’re certainly tasty!  I don’t think it will catch on as pest control though since gull populations are as popular as pigeons.

Trafalgar Square was once famous for the large numbers of pigeons there (encouraged by the sale of corn to tourists) though this has declined since Ken Livingstone banned feeding.  Photographs of Nelson atop his column with a pigeon on his head are a London icon.

In Newcastle I’ve shot similar pictures of Grey’s monument (sculpted by the same artist as Nelson), but the open area at the foot of column isn’t populated by pigeons so it becomes a popular rendezvous spot or simply somewhere to take the weight of your feet, which is where I met Paulo today.  Originally from Portugal, he holidayed here 10 years ago, met a girl and the rest is history.  He works at Grainger Market that I mentioned recently, and in his words “has everything I need here”.  Nice.

He clearly has overcome the homing instinct.

This shot of Paulo is one of my favourites of the year so far and I’ve processed it in a slightly different way – let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.